13 grenades thrown on AL rally : 16 killed, top AL leaders among 200 hurt
AL chief escapes unscathed; her personal security staff dies, Razzak, Amu, Suranjit, Ivy and Zafarullah critically wounded
A wave of grenade attacks on opposition chief Sheikh Hasina's rally on Bangabandhu Avenue yesterday left at least 16 people killed and 200 including top Awami League (AL) leaders Abdur Razzak, Amir Hossain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta, Ivy Rahman and Kazi Zafarullah critically injured.
Hasina, who was the apparent target of the attacks carried out from buildings in front of the AL headquarters, escaped unscathed as activists formed a human shield to protect their leader aboard a truck.
One of her personal security staff, Mahbub Alam, 42, who stood close by her, died.
The unknown assailants fired seven bullets at the bulletproof sports utility vehicle (SUV) that Hasina boarded immediately after the blasts. A bullet also punctured the rear wheel of the vehicle and there was a large hole on the rear right side of its window shield.
At least three bullets hit the right side of the front window shield, just opposite the front seat where the former prime minister sat.
Ivy, who lost both legs as at least 13 grenades exploded one after another, was in a critical condition at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). Doctors amputated her legs.
The deadly attacks started at 5:23pm just when Hasina wrapped up a rally of around 25,000 supporters protesting the recent Sylhet blasts with a call 'to end the rule of the government that inspires bomb attacks'. The AL central leaders were on the truck with Hasina.
As the grenades rained in from the sky, Hasina ducked on the truck and scores of supporters created a shield over her. The grenades missed the truck and landed on either side. Hasina was then huddled into the SUV, as her security personnel fired blank to clear the way, and wheeled her away through thick smokes under police escort.
As top leaders including Suranjit, Ivy, Zafarullah, Razzak, Rahmatullah and Sultan Mohammad Mansur were caught in the midst of fleeing supporters, the area reverberated with more bomb blasts.
"It was not more than three seconds after Hasina finished her speech when a grenade blasted two yards from the dais and what followed was a 'grenade rain'," said Sub-Inspector Mosharraf Hossain, head of a six-member security team of Hasina.
"I saw seven to eight people throwing grenades from the roof of the building opposite the AL office. The grenades were red in colour," he told The Daily Star.
"A security man jumped onto Hasina to save her while screams of panicked people filled the area," he added.
The attackers later fired on the scared people running for cover, witnesses said.
The injured leaders, among at least 200 others, fell on the street bleeding, some of them profusely. It became a ghastly scene of disjointed limbs and blood. People smeared with blood lay groaning and screaming for help. But nobody dared to come to their rescue.
About 20 minutes later, some people gathered on the spot, but were first too shocked to swing into action as they had little idea about what to do. They sat by the dead and the wounded and cried. Some supporters then brought in microbuses, rickshaw-vans and minibuses and picked up the injured leaders and workers.
Ivy was found lying facedown on the pavement in front of the AL office. The shock-still leader's both legs were pounded by the explosion. She was carried to a car to be whisked away.
Suranjit, still bleeding, was put on the pillion seat of a photojournalist's motorcycle at 5:50pm and taken to the DMCH. Zafarullah, who was lying in a pool of blood in front of the party office, was put on a rickshaw-van at 6:10pm and taken to the hospital by Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir.
A bleeding Rahmatullah was hand-carted up to the General Post Office crossing before he was put in a car.
During the attacks, armed police ran away for cover and did not take part in the rescue drive. Confusion and panic ruled supreme as nobody knew which building the grenades would pour down from.
The rescue work was also delayed as all roads to the AL office were teeming with people. Police also clubbed supporters frantically trying to drive in cars to carry the wounded, further delaying the rescue.
Some supporters ran to the Golapshah Mazar and brought in a number of minibuses. The dead and the injured were huddled into them and taken to hospitals.
Angry supporters also went berserk and started vandalising vehicles. They set on fire at least 12 vehicles including double-deckers. Columns of black fumes blanketed the entire area. The roads were littered with broken pieces of windshields.
Firefighters arrived at around 5:45pm and tried to douse the smouldering vehicles.
At 6:27pm, another grenade went off with a big bang in the alleyway opposite the AL office. Soon after, Bangabandhu Avenue was mostly deserted as two more live grenades were found lying amid strewn shoes and clothes opposite the AL office.
A 35-member army team exploded two grenades -- one in front of the AL headquarters and another in Osmani Udyan -- after finding it at Rony Sari Bitan in the Railway Supermarket. They threw explosives to them from a safe distance early today. Intelligence agents last night said they were probing the unusually poor deployment of police at the rally and the absence of the force on nearby building rooftops in a remarkable deviation form the usual practice.
Another frightening scene took place at the DMCH as hundreds of mutilated men and women cried for help. The floor of the casualty ward was awashed with blood. Nurses ran around with saline bags, which ran in short supply. Thousands of wailing relatives crowded the ward. People frantically looked for blood. The heat generated from their bodies was simply unbearable. Bodies lay on the floor alongside the wounded. Every few minutes, ambulances left the DMCH with patients looking for private treatment.
No case was filed until early today, but police arrested a vagabond who was walking down Bangabandhu Avenue during the defusion of the grenades.